Profile of the Ethnic Minority Network – An interview with Sam Illaiee | News and events

Profile of the Ethnic Minority Network – An interview with Sam Illaiee | News and events

Main Menu

Nelft logo


NELFT NHS Foundation Trust provides a range of  community health and mental health services across the north east London Boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge and Waltham Forest, Essex and Kent and Medway

Read the latest NELFT news, including information on our services, new trust staff, research and development of our services.

Profile of the Ethnic Minority Network – An interview with Sam Illaiee

As part of the drive to learn more about the NELFT staff networks, we are in the process of running interviews with some of their leading figures. Recently, we ran an interview with Bob Champion (Executive Director of Workforce & Organisational Development) about the Disability Network – click here

This month, we are featuring the Ethnic Minority Network and talking to one of the driving forces Sam Illaiee. Here is an interview with Sam: 

Why was the Ethnic Minority Network (EMN) established?

It was recognised back in 2010 that one of the challenges the Trust faced was around the voice, recruitment and retention of ethnic minority staffing group was not well established. In response to this, a few staff initially formed a group and began writing a strategy with the support of the board. At that early stage, Wellington Makala and Harjit K Bansal were instrumental in its inception. Equally important was the buy-in from the executive team, namely the CEO John Brouder.

Sam Illaiee - Ethnic Minority Network

What were the biggest challenges faced when setting up the Network?

Cultural changes are always difficult to implement in large organisations. Cultures emerge from values-based behaviours. Fortunately for NELFT, our values are very clear and aligning the strategy to the values in the adoption of new behaviour has led to significant cultural changes.

Some examples include:

  • All senior posts must have an EMN representative on the interview panel
  • All localities of the Trust have ambassadors who work directly with the Integrated Care Director (ICD)
  • The Executive Management Team (EMT) also works directly with an ambassador at a strategic level
  • We have initiated a reverse mentoring program, probably the first in the public sector
  • For all disciplinary hearings and process staff have access to support from the EMN
  • Diverse interview panels for Bands 8 and above
  • Supporting our staff and the local communities around key health inequalities e.g. sickle cell, youth crime and disasters facing particular communities, e.g. Ebola

How can people access the Network?

It is quite simple really. Throughout the recruitment journey into NELFT, the availability of the network is promoted. Joining is free, simple and fast. Simply contact one of the ambassadors or email us on:

The ambassadors meet on a monthly basis, to deliver on the Ethnic Minority Staff Network Strategy, and to address any issues raised by the Local ICD EMN Networks. The EMN has a quarterly meeting which are Trust-wide and are delivered to allow a space to discuss wider issues and we use that opportunity to learn about new skills. Each locality will also have meetings and forums to discuss, challenge and transform locality level issues, which staff feel is a safe space to address any issues that concern them. Learning is then shared across these forums.

The thoughts, suggestions and challenges are then shared individually with the ICD/EMT. At the same time the learning and information flow from the EMT/ICD also finds its way back into the EMN as strategy planning and suggestions are fed back into the network.

There is a genuine feel of a connection from the most senior level of NELFT to each member of the EMN.

When was it established?

It was established in 2010 with a chair and board. In 2015, it was restructured to align with the organisational structure of NELFT ensuring board level representation and ambassadors for each locality and corporate service areas.

What have been the biggest achievements so far?

I personally believe that the simple fact it is present and has a voice is incredible. It is appreciated that the Trust has supported this voice, which has brought much positive change to the staff and ultimately patients it serves.

To be recognised by awards is very welcome. But awards are snapshots and become historical very quickly. In my opinion, to be referred to as a national/international leader/flagship in the area is far more potent. We have achieved this from a memorable afternoon with Simon Stevens where he said he would advise people to ‘go to NELFT’ to learn how to tackle these issues. Secondly, when the Economist placed NELFT in the Top 10 companies internationally in its Global Diversity list. It is testament to the incredible work of all involved in this network and how much moral authority NELFT holds in this field.  

How do you see the Network developing?

Philosophically speaking, we would like to reach a point where staff networks like this one cease to exist as organisations work toward a meritocratic and equity based culture. This cannot happen overnight.

It is a slow and meticulous process which demands high levels of passion, commitment and resilience. It needs structure and that is where the network comes in.

The first strategic document was published in 2010. The last was authored in 2015. The ambitions of the first have been met and we are striving to meet and exceed the goals of the second by 2020.

I would not want to promise more than this, but we already see the impact the Trust has had on the wider NHS community in relation to our EMN strategy. To see our work scale across other organisation and for them to learn and share their journeys with us would be extremely powerful and very rewarding.

Thanks to Sam for his time and if you would like to read more about the Network, you can visit the NELFT Network website page at: